Cheap Hotels in Japan

Cheap Hotels in Japan

In the current environment, we’re constantly asked by people to aquire hotel rooms in Japan for lower prices than in the past.    The media is constantly going on about how there are all these great travel deals out there – and so now they’ve managed expectations down to zero… and that’s exactly how many cheap hotel rooms you’ll find in Japan.

There are a number of factors affecting prices in Japan, and most of those have an impact on the US Traveler.  First, the Japanese travel a lot within the country and they are traveling on their own economy, so they do not have the same price sensitivity as foreign travelers.  Result: hotels (especially the lower priced ones) filled up with lots of Japanese travelers.  Economic reality: if the hotels are filled up, they’re not going to offer discounts.

The second factor is the declining value of the dollar against the yen.  The dollar is actually doing quite well against most currencies, but not against the yen.  IT’s actually been hovering in 10-15 year lows.   Result: a hotel that charges the same amount in yen as last year costs about 20% more to the US traveler this year.   Economic reality: the Japanese have no incentive to lower their hotel prices to cover the cost of the lost value of the dollar.

The third factor is one of the most mis-understood among foreign tourists, since most of their experience is with Europe, Latin America and even in the US.  There is an assumption that small hotels in smaller towns will by default, be less expensive.  Result: travelers are all looking to stay in the smaller towns in the few hotels available there. Economic reality: supply and demand wins out -  there are many reasonable low-priced hotels in Tokyo and Kyoto, but not in cities where there are only a few hotels to choose from.

The final comment on hotel costs relates to something uniquely Japanese – the ryokan or onsen.  These are typical Japanese inns where you sleep on the tatami matted floor in futons and often are served a Japanese Kaiseki meal for dinner.   Many, many travelers assume that staying at these inns will be less expensive than staying at Western-style hotels.  In fact, the ryokans are often the most expensive way to go.  First – they charge by the person (not by the room).   Also, they usually will not accommodate single travelers.  The Japanese often sleep 3, 4 or more to a room that would make 2 Westerners uncomfortable.   From the inn’s perspective, any time they have fewer people in the room, they’re losing money (they charge by the person, remember?).   So they have no incentive to take bookings that don’t fill their rooms and even less incentive to offer discounts.  Result: ryokan prices often shock westerners, as they are almost always more than the nearby western-style hotel.  Economic reality: ryokans will not save you any money.

So how to make the best hotel choices if you’re traveling to Japan now?  First, if your budget can afford it and you’re used to staying in very nice hotels, go with the deluxe foreign chains (Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, etc.), who are hurting from lack of business travelers and do not have clients from the local economy.  They’re offering great discounts.  Second, if these hotels aren’t in your price range, plan you trip centered on the cities (Tokyo and Kyoto) where there are many more inexpensive hotels to choose from.  You can take a lot of day trips out of these places and still have a great stay in Japan.  You’ll also have the happy result of reducing your travel costs as well.  Finally, as a middle ground, choose modest hotels in the cities and splurge on one or two very nice ryokans in order to have a more authentic trip.  This way, you have the cheap hotels when you’re not likely to be in them and the great rooms at a place where the room and the experience is the main event.

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